What is it about water that is so alluring to the human psyche? Views of a river, estuary, ocean, canal, inter-coastal waterway, bayou, or lake can create a real estate bidding war over the most mediocre house. That same impulse is also in play when it comes to travel. Successful travel ads almost always feature stunning water views, supported by descriptions of beaches, boat rides, or water sports.
There is nothing new about this, of course. For centuries, animals and people have congregated wherever potable water was available. Eventually villages and then great cities grew up beside navigable waterways because the technology to build decent roads simply did not exist. In fact rivers were the world’s highways, and every major city on the globe – and nearly every state capitol in this country – were situated on riverbanks.
Much of the world’s great literature and lore, even music, commemorates this phenomenon: Tolstoy’s Volga, Strauss’ Blue Danube, Mark Twain’s Mississippi, Bernard de Voto’s seminal Across the Wide Missouri. Even man-made waterways like the Erie Canal, which changed American history, are as well-known as Oh, Shenandoah and Old Man River.
When American pioneers started moving West they followed paths created by migratory herds and later followed by nomadic aboriginals. These pathways weren’t just random, or merely the easiest way over a mountain range. They too invariably followed the rivers!
So it is that, as we here at Shebby Lee Tours explore America’s Vanishing Trails, we too follow the rivers. In April we will be following the Rio Grande north, re-tracing New Mexico’s El Camino Real, as Don Juan de Onate and his followers did over 400 years ago. Onate was less a conquistador, than an early-day developer – certainly looking for gold (to offset his expenses, which the king adroitly sidestepped), and for souls to save (he was accompanied by several priests). But the majority of that original party of over 700 was made up of farmers, tradesmen, and families – settlers eager for the chance to own land of their own – at the discretion of the King of Spain, of course.
It was the first of many “entradas” along “El Camino Real”, and its legacy lives today in the multi-cultural land of enchantment that we know as New Mexico. Spanish place names dot the landscape of southern New Mexico and this heritage is represented in one of the most unique open air marketplaces in America: the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market. Across the river is Old Mesilla, the original Mexican community with its hacienda-style plaza and historic Mexican restaurants. Our exploration includes not only learning about the Spanish heritage embodied in these first arrivals, but their interaction with the Natives, whose lives were changed forever by the intruders, and the Anglos who followed. What a fascinating mix these cultures have left to New Mexico – and one worth exploring with an expert.
Which is exactly what we are going to do this spring (April 16-22, 2015). Participants will not only learn about the cultural landscape but the natural one as well. Influences of this unique cultural mix are evident everywhere: in the food, music, architecture, clothing, jewelry, and art. You won’t find another Vanishing Trail like this one.
The adventure of a lifetime awaits you on El Camino Real!
This month’s Trail Talk is sponsored by:
Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. She is a frequent presenter at numerous history conferences and trade association meetings and is a regular contributor to ABA’s Insider online magazine. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.